Who is The Real Speaker?

By Maryam Mosharraf

Numerous grammatical tropes and rhetorical mysteries of Sura al-Fatiha have always been a great point of interest. We are not going to take a grammar course however, we want to talk to God. But is there any real dialogue  with God in the seven verses of al-Fatiha which Muslims use in their daily prayer, if so, who is the real speaker? Many times I have asked my self, who is saying “In the Name of God?” Is God talking on behalf of His believers or even unbelievers? If so, is God swearing to His own name? It does not make sense! why on the other hand, are there no verbs here, what is that supposed to mean? Is that “Me” who is saying: “I should begin this or that job or task in the name of God?” Or, is this God who says: “ Read! Start! or Make love…however, do it in the Name of God?



What is supposed to fill this empty space of verbs and predicates? If there were a pronoun or adverb or any deictic indicating space and time in this verse, it would focus our minds on a more limited setting. Later in the same Sura, “Thee alone we worship and thee alone we ask for help” (Q 1:5), verbs and pronouns focus the reader’s attention automatically on the human act of serving God. In other words, in this way the mind of the reader/speaker accepts a kind of limitation and in this limitation s/he looks upon God. This confinement sets the ground for religious discipline which is of great importance in the spiritual life of any believer or within any religion. In this limitation the act of worship is manifested within the verb and pronoun.

Although the speaker’s point of view is inward here : ‘we’, it must be borne in mind that the real speaker is the one who intends to focus our minds on worship. So there is a hidden speaker here, who is trying to focus the reader’s words and mind on a certain act, on worship.

Such a limitation is not seen in the beginning verses, the mind and subjectivity are allowed to float in an unconfined space and feel free to call God in any form that the magnetism of desires would let it go. The phrase “in the Name of God” can be attached to anything, since it is detached from everything: beautifully free.

This freedom and mind suspension is applied in the next three verses of al-Fatiha where timelessness and boundlessness, plus the absence  of verbs creates an abstract mood which cannot be identified with anything save the Sacred. Here the speaker is free of any certain worldly affiliation. While in the following verses, the verbs direct the attention of the speaker towards the relationship between God and Humankind.

Thus, we face a double layered structure in al-Fatiha: in the first part (Q 1:1-4) we face a sense of detachment, a sense which in the second part (Q 1:5-7) turns into attachment. A binary structure: God versus/by side of Human.

Does this structure help us to understand who the real speaker is? Who is the one that focuses our mind by putting emphasis on the things He wills. In the first part, it is in fact God Himself, who speaks in behalf of the reader, and asks to be seen with His attribute of bounty. But at the same time He gives form to a hidden speaker beneath the words and the  style of phrases. This hidden speaker shapes another addressee, who is going to be God himself. The real speaker is the one who shapes this double structure;  A structure which shapes a dialogue, like a question and an answer, or a request and a reponse. So , based on this structure, the speaker is either God or Human. It is this ambiguity that gives the Sura an important peculiarity, according to which God speaks on behalf of Humankind and Humankind speaks in place of God.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Two Unique Translations of the Qurʾan

By Gabriel Reynolds

If you can’t judge a book by its cover perhaps you can by its title.  The “Hilali-Khan” translation of the Qurʾan is entitled Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qurʾan in the English Language: A Summarized Version of At-Ṭabarī, Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih al-Bukhari.  With this title readers are reminded that a translation of the Qurʾan should not be confused with the Qurʾan itself, even while they are assured that this translation is based on reliable Sunni authorities who interpret the Qurʾan in the light of hadith.  The Hilali Khan translation is published by Dar-us-Salam, a Saudi publisher (with an American office in Houston) connected with the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qurʾan in Medina.  In fact the translation of Muhammad Taqi al-Din al-Hilali (of Saudi Arabia) and Muhammad Muhsin Khan (of Pakistan, translator of the Dar-us-Salam Arabic-English version of Bukhari’s Sahih) is subsidized by the Saudi government and distributed for free in many mosques and to many libraries throughout the English speaking world; it was chosen to replace the translation of Yusuf Ali, a translation considered suspect by certain tradition-minded Sunnis.

However, the Hilali-Khan translation has been criticized for the manner in which hadith – including those with an anti-Jewish or anti-Christian flavor — are integrated into the translation.  The most famous example of this is verse 7 of al-Fatiha, which Hilali-Khan renders: “The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).”  Yet it seems to me that there is something felicitous about the interpretive style of Hilalli-Khan translation.  All translations in the end are interpretations, and at least Hilali-Khan are truthful in their advertising.  In addition, their translation offers frequent citations (in English) of those hadith which are central to the tradition-minded Sunni reading of the Qurʾan.  For example, on Q 17:79 (which refers to a maqam mahmud, “a station of praise”) they cite the following hadith, “On the Day of Resurrection the people will fall on their knees and every nation will follow their Prophet and they will say, “O so-and-so! Intercede (for us with Allah)’, till (the right of) intercession will be given to the Prophet (Muhammad) and that will be the day when Allah will raise him to Maqam Mahmud.”  These sorts of references make Hilali-Khan a useful reference work.

Quite unlike the English translation of Hilali-Khan, and yet unique and useful in its own way, is the French translation of (the Swiss-Palestinian) Sami Awad Aldeed Abu-Sahlieh.  One thing that Abu-Sahlieh’s translation does have in common with that of Hilali-Khan is a long title: Le Coran: Version bilingue arabe-française, ordre chronologique selon l’Azhaar, renvois aux variantes, abrogations et aux écrits juifs et chrétiens (The Qurʾan: A Bilingual Arabic French Version in the Chronological Order of al-Azhar, with References to Variants, Abrogations, and Jewish and Christian Writings).  As advertised, the translation of Abu-Sahlieh begins not with al-Fatiha but instead with al-ʿAlaq (96) the Sura which appears first in most traditional lists of the chronological order in which the angel Gabriel revealed the Qurʾan to the Prophet.  It ends not with al-Nas (114) but with al-Nasr (110).

Meanwhile Abu-Sahlieh includes references throughout his translation to traditional variant readings (qiraʾat), to reports on which verses (according to the tradition) abrogate or are abrogated, and to parallel or otherwise relevant texts from the Bible or other Jewish and Christian writings, notably the Talmud.   Thus for the ending of Qurʾan 9:77 yakdhibuna (“They used to tell lies”) Abu Sahlieh notes the variant yukadhdhibuna (“They used to deny”).  Three verses later, regarding Qurʾan 9:80 (“Whether or not you ask forgiveness of them, even if you ask forgiveness of them seventy times, God will never forgive them….”) Abu Sahlieh notes: A. the verse is abrogated by Q 63:5 and B. 70 is the same number given for mutual forgiveness in Matthew 18:22.  Readers might be critical of certain aspects of Abu Sahlieh’s approach, but they will likely also be grateful for the references that make his translation, like that of Hilali Khan, a useful reference work.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.

Qur’anic Cross References and Tafsir al-qur’an bi-l-qur’an

By Mun’im Sirry

A part of the Qur’an Seminar, a year-long initiative directed by Gabriel S. Reynolds from the University of Notre Dame, is to develop a project on cross-references of the Qur’an. This cross-references project will provide for nearly every verse in the Qur’an a selection of other verses which shed light upon, clarify, or explain the verse you are reading.

As is known, the Qur’an in its printed edition has not yet been cross-referenced, in spite of the fact that al-mufassirūn (Qur’an commentators) realized quite early on the central importance of tafsīr al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an (interpreting the Qur’an through the Qur’an itself). Even some modern Qur’an exegetes like the Iranian scholar Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabaṭabā’ī (d. 1981) claim to follow this method. It must be pointed out, however, that the way Ṭabaṭabā’ī interprets the Qur’an in his al-Mīzān shows that his reliance on the internal evidence of the Qur’an is much less than his use of other sources as he offers not only an explication (bayān) of a given verse, but also an extensive discussion of various aspects such as historical, philosophical, and social aspects. It seems safe to say that in the long history of tafsīr, this tafsīr Qur’an bi al-Qur’an has not been dealt with as an important topic in its own right.

There are only few tafsīrs which bear the title of tafsīr al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an, two of which are Aḍwa’ al-bayan fi iḍaḥa al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an by Muḥammad al-Shinqīṭī, and Al-Tafsīr al-Qur’anī li al-Qur’an by ‘Abd al-Karīm Khaṭīb. However, upon close reading, these two tafsīrs are not really tafsīr al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an as the title seems to suppose. In 1930, the Egyptian scholar Muḥammad Abū Zaid wrote Al-Hidāya wa al-‘irfān fi tafsīr al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an, which provides references to other passages which in the opinion of the author seems to shed some light on the verse under discussion. However, the cross-references he provided are very limited. In addition, because of his unorthodox interpretations of the Qur’an, his tafsīr was suppressed and he was declared as an atheist by Rashīd Riḍā.

Perhaps, the most extensive treatment and pioneered work on tafsīr al-Qur’an bi al-Qur’an is that composed by Rudi Paret entitled Der Koran: Kommentar und Konkordanz. Paret’s work is certainly very rich, which includes – in addition to possible cross-references – interpretations of and alternate renderings for a given verse or passage. Furthermore, as the term “Konkordanz” may indicate, his Der Koran provides all identical or similar phraseology and usage in different places of the Qur’an, a model that will not be followed in this cross-references project.

Instead, in this project the cross-references are based on connection between words, phrases, themes, concepts, events, and characters. One word may occur several times in the Qur’an, but the cross references will be made only where there is connection in meaning between two or more verses or passages. In doing this cross-references project, several models and methods used for the cross-references of the Bible are consulted, including The New Scofield Reference Bible, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, The Bible Self-Explained, and The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. As is well-known, the Bible cross-reference has been a long established tradition, while the Qur’an, at least in its printed edition, has not been cross-referenced.

The need of such a work, therefore, is obvious to all readers of the Qur’an, because in the current available printed editions of the Qur’an there is nothing to indicate that certain passages shed light upon, clarify, or explain other passages.

A sample of cross-references of the Suras al-Fātia and al-Baqara

first half munim tablesecond two thirds table

third of thirds table

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.